2 Chainz’ ‘Rap or Go to the League’ a mixed bag

Photo courtesy of HBO

Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz recently released his fifth studio album, “Rap or Go to the League.” Following his last release “Pretty Girls like Trap Music” and the “B.O.A.T.S.” album series, the expectations for the album were for it to have more club bangers, more hard-hitting songs about his trap life and his come-up and more infectious, raw flows. Nothing more, nothing less.

Coming into this album, it was difficult to make solid predictions because 2 Chainz decided not to release any singles or preview the album in any way.

With 21 Savage’s album “I Am > I Was” in late 2018 and Offset’s recent release “Father of 4,” the recent trend has been for established trap artists to deliver mature-sounding albums in comparison to the rest of their discography. Both of these albums have had unpredictable features, such as J. Cole, CeeLo Green, Childish Gambino, along with conscious lyrics and introspective analyses. 

With “Rap or Go to the League,” 2 Chainz seems to be riding the new trend. The name signifies how African Americans are seen as only rappers or athletes. The album starts off with a melancholy, soulful introduction in which 2 Chainz remorses over the shooting of the son of fellow rapper, Lil’ Fate. The song eases into a powerful chorus from R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius, in which she prays for all of the sins and wrongdoings to be forgiven. At the end of the song, 2 Chainz strays from the instrumental to honor all of the people he has lost recently until a dark, beautiful male vocal melody accompanied with a haunting piano solo interrupts him. The song ends with a small spoken-word-style component discussing the racial issues facing African Americans today.

The album immediately follows with a soulful sample crafted by producer 9th Wonder in the song “Threat 2 Society.” 2 Chainz continues to choose the more conscious route with his lyrics as he reminisces about moments in his life that he regrets — rapping, “I done some things I ain’t proud of like sold my mom drugs” — and reflects upon the choices he made when he was living in the streets and decided to start his rap career. 

While the content and flow provided by 2 Chainz melds perfectly with the bouncy boom-bap 90s instrumentation throughout the verses, the rapper fails to seal the deal with the chorus as he chooses a cadence that drastically breaks the flow of the entire song, simply repeating “I’m a threat” several times.

While the content of these more mature-sounding songs is not groundbreaking, this is the first time the world has seen 2 Chainz take this thoughtful, introspective approach.

Like 21 Savage and Offset, 2 Chainz also boasts an impressive feature list consisting of Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Ty Dolla $ign, Chance the Rapper and several other rappers. In addition, pop singer Ariana Grande makes a surprise appearance

In “Momma I Hit a Lick,” 2 Chainz collaborates with rapper Kendrick Lamar and producer Pharrell Williams to bring forth a very west-coast, high energy, bouncy track in which they flaunt their success. 

2 Chainz approaches the song with a very standard flow until he starts rapping in an awkward high-pitched vocal pattern that reminds the listener of Future’s infamous feature in “King’s Dead” from the Black Panther soundtrack. Kendrick starts his verse aggressively and then abruptly switches into a lowkey, quiet flow similar to 21 Savage’s flow in “Don’t Come out the House” off of Metro Boomin’s “Not all Heroes Wear Capes” album from late 2018. The quiet flow makes it difficult for the listener to hear the lyrics and feels very out of place in the overall vibe and energy of the song. Kendrick switches his flow after a short period of time and finishes in a strong manner.

Lil Wayne, in “2 Dollar Bill,” unleashes a confident, cut-throat verse throughout which he impressively maintains the same rhyme scheme while establishing the theme of being rare. Travis Scott and Ty Dolla $ign both come packed with catchy hooks and Ariana Grande stays in her comfort zone and sings a soft, warm chorus.

While there are a lot of high points in this album, there are some low points as well. In songs such as “I Said Me,” “Sam” and “I’m Not Crazy, Life Is,” 2 Chainz uses a very disinterested, boring flow that completely undermines the strong, energetic instrumental that accompanies him. In “NCAA,” 2 Chainz uses a strained, yelling tone that gets very repetitive and annoying by the first verse. 

“I Said Me” begins with an icy, chilling sample of 1983 song “A Garden of Peace” by Lonnie Liston Smith. However, the beat drop and remaining portion of the song did not continue the energy and vibe that the sample provided.

Overall, “Rap or Go to the League” is a welcome addition to the 2 Chainz discography. Still, while 2 Chainz provides several standout tracks, by no means is this an extraordinary album. 

While the first listen of this album may be disappointing and not enjoyable, the album can easily grow on the listener. Ultimately, how listeners react to the release will most likely depend on what their expectations are when going in to it.

 Someone open to the idea of 2 Chainz adopting a broader, more traditional hip-hop/rap album would be satisfied with this album, while those fans who were hoping that 2 Chainz would stay in his lane and continue to make music in his traditional sound and style will most likely be disappointed.